For those who haven’t heard the news, Marvel Comics is giving their legendary Norse God of Thunder a sex change. Well, not exactly. The real concept is that he’s going to become unworthy of his magic hammer Mjolnir. Even those only familiar with Thor through his first feature film will understand that this can happen to him, and when it does, he technically ceases to be Thor. Only a person worthy of the power of Thor may lift Mjolnir. So after the current Thor becomes unworthy, an as yet unidentified female character within the comics will lift up the hammer and become the new Thor.
The news has received the reception you might expect: some hard core fans are ticked and others are thrilled at this sign of growing diversity within comics.
I’m going to come right out and say this: I’m not thrilled about this news from Marvel Comics about a female Thor. In fact, I think it stinks.
“This is not She-Thor. This is not Lady Thor. This is not Thorita. This is THOR." – @jasonaaron
— Ryan Penagos (@AgentM) July 15, 2014
It’s a terrible idea, because it’s not really doing women any long-term favors within comics. Marvel is talking a very good game. They’ve tweeted all the right answers when responding to the expected so-called “nerd rage” on social media. Thor writer Jason Aaron said in an interview on Time magazine’s website, “This will have long-term effects on the title. This isn’t something that’s just going to last for a few issues. She is Thor. She will carry that hammer in her own books and the other books as well. So for the foreseeable future this is Thor.” They even promise there’s no exit plan for how the original Thor will regain his title as the God of Thunder.Honestly, if they were going to make this a permanent change, I’d be all for it. Making it a short-term change, even if it lasts two or three years, won’t deliver the diversity Marvel is claiming they’re after here. No, the storyline will still be all about the Asgardian formerly known as Thor (Maybe “the Artist-formerly-known-as the Artist-formerly-known-as-Prince” can offer him tips on how to function without a name). We’ll probably suffer through a year-and-a-half of this new Thor living in her predecessor’s shadow. Other characters will question her right to the title of Thor, and we’ll get more than a few sappy hugs, handshakes and pep talks where the other heroes acknowledge her worthiness (“Awwwww… Isn’t she so cute. It’ll be like a new puppy, but with a hammer”). Then once this new Thor has been accepted by characters and fans alike, the process of bringing back the old Thor will begin. Then we’ll get the old Thor back, and what’s going to happen with his temporary replacement? If Marvel Comics history is any guide, nothing good.
My gripe is this: this female Thor’s story will never truly be about her; it’s always going to be about the “Once and Future Thor.”
I’m sure some of you want to believe. I’d like to, but I’ve warned you about Marvel’s track record. Let’s examine some of the evidence.
In 2007, Marvel gave us “The Death of Captain America.” That was Captain America volume 5, Issue #25. The storyline saw Steve Rogers killed and replaced with his former sidekick Bucky Barnes. At the time of Steve Rogers’ assassination, the president and publisher of Marvel Entertainment Dan Buckley was asked if this was the end of Captain America (Steve Rogers). He said, “He’s very dead right now.” Two years later, Steve’s back and was never really dead. After spending two years of Bucky earning the right to be the new Captain America, the storyline to give it back to Steve was in full swing.
Think Marvel might have changed their ways? Let’s take a look at the Superior Spider-Man which Marvel gave to us in 2013. The storyline was pretty bold. A dying Doctor Octopus manages to kill Peter Parker by swapping minds. Peter dies in Doc Ock’s body, and Doc Ock manages to become the new Spider-Man, unbeknownst to anyone else. At one point in the storyline, Marvel even handed readers an issue where the last vestiges of Peter Parker’s spirit are expunged from his mind by Doc Ock. Writer Dan Slott insisted Peter Parker wouldn’t come back. “He’s dead.” Yeah, well the August 2014 issue of Superior Spider-Man just undid all that. Peter Parker’s back! One can easily argue that Doc Ock’s entire run pretending to be Peter Parker and Spider-Man was still all about Peter Parker. Oh, and Doc Ock? Yeah, he’s now dead (for however long that lasts).
So does anyone really hold out any hope that Marvel will handle a female Thor, who is already being portrayed as a temporary Thor, any better than Bucky Barnes or Doc Ock’s fill-in performances? I don’t.
Marvel can’t really be trusted to give us diversity with these iconic characters. The most notable, seeming exception would be the half-black and half-Hispanic Miles Morales who first appeared as Spider-Man back in 2011. In this storyline, Peter Parker dies and Miles Morales takes up the mantle of Spider-Man. In case you’re confused by the whole timeline here (after all, we just discussed Peter Parker “dying” in 2013), don’t trouble yourself. See, this is the copout: this whole storyline played out in the “Ultimates Universe,” which isn’t even the same continuity as the mainstream Marvel Comics. Point being, while it’s good to see a character like Miles Morales out there, it wasn’t like they gave him the real role of Spider-Man. No, they gave him the alternate role. Bold and diverse would have been to kill off the mainstream Peter Parker and replace him there. No chance of that happening, though.
So don’t get your hopes up for this new female Thor. You really shouldn’t. It boils down to a simple question. If she’s such a great character, then does she really need to be Thor to provide diversity? The answer to that one is obvious, but it’s too late now. The new Thor is coming, so if Marvel is serious about giving us diversity, then I dare them to make the change permanent. Come on, Marvel. Prove you have the guts to make a real change and not insult women by giving them what will ultimately prove a knock-off version of a male superhero.